Children's Hospital Colorado

How to Help Children Stay Calm After a Natural Disaster

A woman with short brown hair and wearing a blue and white striped blouse holds a baby wearing a pink, yellow, white and black striped sweater and sucking on a pacifier.

One strategy parents can implement in a moment of crisis after a natural disaster is to bring as much predictability and structure as possible to a chaotic situation. A way to do this, and a strategy implemented in the Neuropsychiatric Special Care Program at Children's Hospital Colorado, is to write a social story.

A social story is a brief factual story about the details of what is currently happening and what will be happening in the near future in the life of the individual the story is written for. We write these stories at Children's Colorado for a patient who is about to undergo a procedure such as an X-ray or sleep study.

In the context of a fire, for example, a social story a mom writes for her daughter might go something like this:

  1. My mom loves me very much.
  2. She wants me to be safe.
  3. Because of the fire we have to leave our home right now.
  4. We are going to a big gym to stay for a little while.
  5. Other people who had to leave their homes will be at the gym too.
  6. This will be a safe place for us to stay until the fire has been put out.
  7. I will meet new people, but I will also always be with my mom.
  8. Mom says I can take my teddy bear with me too.
  9. If I get scared I will hold on to teddy, and I can always ask mom questions.
  10. When the fire has been put out, we will go home.
  11. If our home is still there, we will live in it again.
  12. If our home is gone, we will find a new home to live in.
  13. My mom loves me very much, and everything is going to be okay.

Social stories can also be helpful in these situations of loss and grief, to show how the present situation may appear dark, but that there is hope and comfort if we continue to read.

Schemper noted that Carol Gray, Director of The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding in Zeeland, Michigan, is credited with developing and defining social stories, initially created to aid those with autism spectrum disorders.

If you would like to make an appointment for your child to speak with a member of Children's Colorado's Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Team, call the Intake Team at 720-777-6200. If this is an emergency, call 911.

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